Archaeologists Find Ancient Cannabis Burial Shroud in Northwest China

Archaeologists Find Ancient Cannabis Burial Shroud in Northwest China

(Photo: Hongen Jiang)

A major find in the northwest Chinese desert may shed more light on how prevalent cannabis use was thousands of years ago. About 2,400 to 2,800 years ago, to be more “exact.”

Archaeologists recently uncovered what appears to be a well-preserved cannabis “burial shroud” covering a roughly 35-year-old man with Caucasian features in China's Turpan Basin.

Thirteen cannabis plants, each up to almost three feet long, were placed diagonally across the man's chest, with the roots oriented beneath his pelvis and the tops of the plants extending from just under his chin, up and alongside the left side of his face.


Radiocarbon dating of the tomb's contents indicates that the burial occurred approximately 2,400 to 2,800 years ago.

This was the first time complete cannabis plants have been discovered in a burial site this old. It is interesting to note that most of the flowering heads of the 13 female cannabis plants had been chopped off before what was left became a shroud to cover this man for eternity.

Add to this the fact that the flowering heads that remained contained preserved trichomes and a clearer picture of the ancient ”Silk Road” trade route begins to emerge: at least some people that took the route were getting high. Whether for religious purposes or just to relax or for some other reason, some of the ancient traders were – to borrow a phrase from a legendary comedy movie that revolved around cannabis use – getting “Chinese eyes.”

Other clues lead experts to believe that the plants were grown locally and harvested in the late summer.

Even if you don’t enjoy marijuana or consider yourself part of its “culture,” stories like this are interesting nonetheless. To open a small window on a world that existed over 2,000 years ago and to learn more about people who were much like us is fascinating and shouldn’t be taken for granted.